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Our university will have some Open Days for prospective students over summer, and our gaming society wants to present itself. Any somewhat traditional way of playing an RPG will take too much of visitor's time, and if we want to reach more than a selected few people, also more GMs and table space than available.

I am therefore looking for alternative ways of giving what will essentially be passer-bys a bit of role playing experience if they are interested.

What games and what techniques facilitate me to allow someone to join playing this game for anything up from five minutes and does not create too much overhead even if someone decides that it's not to their taste before they even got into it properly?

I believe I have at some point read that presenting games at trade fairs might be done in a fast drop-in-drop-out style (or in very short slots, but a fixed commitment of 15 minutes expected might already be too much for someone who is just casually looking around all university societies), what do I need to do to have something like this run smoothly, and which game is best suited for it?

I know that I will have to run it in a very rules-light system (considering Roll for Shoes or Risus, but I'm by no way restricted to a particular system), so that I have to explain barely anything when a new player drops in. On the other hand, I have no good idea on how to enable a newly dropped-in player to have a rough idea of the plot (no matter if serious-linear or emergent-silly), so that they can immerse and get going immediately.

Further tips from experience with a game similar to the constraints given here are appreciated. (Did you have a way to deal with lines and veils? Did handouts help or hinder? Very linear plot with a big countdown, or no prepared plot at all?)

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I feel this question could be improved and better tagged, but I don't know how and am looking forward to comments or edits. –  Anaphory Jun 19 at 10:40

2 Answers 2

I was involved in essentially the same kind of situation a couple weeks ago. The two things I went in intending to run were:

  • An old-school D&D dungeon crawl with a simple B/X-style ruleset and pre-gen characters. Let the players sit down, hand them a character sheet, their character teleports in to join any others, and you're good to go without needing to explain a ton of rules, worry about feats, etc.

  • Roll for Shoes. It's one of the simplest games out there - if you drop the XP mechanic, the rules are essentially "Roll a d6 for each skill level. If they're all 6s, you get a more specific skill at one level higher." Very light, very quick, and generally very silly. All the things you want in a drop-in/drop-out game for total beginners.

Unfortunately, I can't say how well it worked out in practice because the group I was with ended up in an out-of-the-way room by ourselves, so no new/inexperienced players ever came by wanting to try a game.

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+1 for roll for shoes; I ran this at a con literally as that; for new players I just gave them more focus. Really simple mechanics worked great. Ended up with the players sailing a grand piano ship over a sea of sheep-sheering fans to sink a pirate white whale. –  Rob Jun 19 at 15:33
    
In my opinion Roll For Shoes doesn't work as well for drop in games (as opposed to just short, low prep games) as the progression mechanic means that new players contribute less to the group. Also, Rob, I think I may have been in that game. Last Camcon? –  Dave Jun 19 at 16:46
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@Dave: If you leave out the XP mechanic (so that you only gain skills when all dice are natural sixes), it's still pretty quick and easy to get from 1 to 2, but going from 2 to 3 won't be that common and you're very unlikely to see anything higher than 3. Players who have been in the game for a while will be more diverse than a newcomer, but they generally won't have more raw mechanical power. –  Dave Sherohman Jun 19 at 18:31
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@Dave Last Camcon it was indeed :) Small world! –  Rob Jun 19 at 19:56
    
When designing the dungeon: keep the plot simple ("Get the McGuffin!"), have small/short rooms/encounters (show off a variety of things), keep puzzles simple (getting stuck will leave short term players dissatisfied), make all rooms interesting (no time for boring things!), keep rooms/encounters disconnected (since PCs won't know what happened earlier and backtracking to learn is dull). All this probably adds up to a more zany, less coherent dungeon. When in doubt, blame a mad wizard; it worked for Gygax! –  Alan De Smet Jun 20 at 22:27

Game

I wrote my own system when I had to do this. I've done a bunch of them now. Unfortunately I haven't the pdf anywhere accessible.

If I were you, I'd require the following:

  • Simple stats - no numbers higher than 10, no more than 10 pieces of information to a character. (I had 13 once, most went unused)
  • Simple maths - counting, comparison or basic addition of two single-digit numbers.
  • One-roll resolution - the player shouldn't need to roll to hit and for damage, for example. Opposed rolls do work, however.
  • Character generation - people engage better when they made the character, even if they choose, say, four adjectives from a list of ten and apply the adjustments.
  • System transparancy - it should be obvious what a character is good at.

Techniques

As a GM, be prepared for wildly varying player numbers, and winging it. Silly plots ease the suspension of disbelief when characters vanish and appear. Don't be afraid to ignore the system to keep the game memorable- most players won't care as long as you are open about it. If you can, get a helper to do character generation with new players. Also try seed the group with player you know, people don't want to come to an empty table.

I start with a vague overview: Something is going wrong, here are some immediate culprits, go for it. A pressing need would also work, if you could make it obvious. Conflicts initiated by the opponents force the players into action, which helps. For the actual scenes I just write a bunch of ideas on scraps of paper, have the players add their own at the beginning and maybe a few more throughout. Then I pick a few and combine them. YMMV on that.

I've added players during different phases of a longer scene, but generally I add them during a scene change. With drop-outs, often they need to leave quickly due to friends showing up and so on, so I either just fade them out of the scene or have them shoved out of the current conflict somehow. Clean-cut scenes are a bonus, especially because you get to do another round of quick character descriptions to get new players up to speed.

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